The Integrity of the Text
An even more surprising find from The En-Gedi scroll was that when scholars in Israel interpreted the text, it exactly matched the Masoretic version, which is the foundational Hebrew text used in Bibles around the world today. Not a single variant was found but it conformed to every word and every letter.
The oldest complete Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in the Masoretic form is the Leningrad Codex from AD 1008 and other copies with only portions of the text survive from a couple centuries earlier. Many scholars cite this reality to maintain that the Masoretic text came relatively late in the development of the Bible – about 1000 years after other versions such as the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint.
These versions all have differences that are reflected in the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran. These differences are typically exaggerated by skeptics of the Bible and simultaneously downplayed by people of faith. But the En-Gedi Leviticus scroll demonstrates the Masoretic tradition nearly 1000 years before Leningrad Codex, yet perfectly matching it.
Dr. Emanuel Tov from Hebrew University in Jerusalem is a linguist, biblical scholar and leading authority on the Dead Sea scrolls that participated in the study. He stated that the charred En-Gedi scroll is “100 percent identical” to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries. “This is quite amazing for us. In 2,000 years, this text has not changed.”
“The En-Gedi scroll even duplicates the exact paragraph breaks seen later in the medieval Hebrew. The only difference between the two is that ancient Hebrew had no vowels, so these were added in the Middle Ages.”
The En-Gedi scroll was found in the synagogue’s Holy Ark (or cabinet), which is a significant point. Previously, no biblical scroll had ever been found in the Ark of an ancient synagogue. The Jewish Talmud along with ancient writers such as Philo and Josephus held that a standard copy of the Hebrew Bible was kept in the court of the Temple in Jerusalem for the benefit of copyists. These copies were then distributed to the various synagogues. These versions that were connected to the Temple likely represented the official orthodox version of the text while the Essenes at Qumran were a rival fringe group that had separated itself from the Temple. This may help explain the wide textual variety in the biblical scrolls found at Qumran.
It is interesting to note that manuscripts discovered at sites other than Qumran (including Masada and Wadi Murabba‛at) are closer to the Masoretic Text and in some cases even match it. These were places where Jews from the Temple (and thus connected to its central orthodoxy) fled after its destruction in AD 70, so they took their official texts with them. According to Yardeni, after this point all Hebrew biblical manuscripts that we know of reflect the Masoretic text, and not the variety seen at Qumran.